Good or Perfect?

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian Wallace
Associate Minister for Emerging Ministries &
Acting Head of Staff
Thursday, December 21, 2023

Good or Perfect?

This year is my 30th anniversary of being a runner.  In the fall of 1993, I joined the cross-country team in seventh grade for some inexplicable reason, but after that, I was hooked.  And so, for the last 30 years, I’ve been running with varying levels of consistency.  And let me be really clear about one thing: I’ve never been a good runner.  In high school, I peaked out somewhere between below average and decent.  About ten years ago, I started training with a renewed passion, and while that ultimately led to me completing a few races, my peak performance was a top-three finish in a youth group fundraiser (and even that was only in my age group).

In the last few years, a combination of injuries, a busier schedule, and general laziness has hampered my running to the point where I’m averaging about 1-2 times a week.  One day, as I let my inner voice of judgment run wild about what a lazy schmo I had become, a thought occurred to me – what if I tried walking in the mornings when I didn’t have time to run?  I mean, it couldn’t hurt.  So that’s what I started doing.  Most mornings, rather than go through the routine of stretching and recovering from a regular workout, I walk a little more than two miles and come home and get ready for work.  Do I get the massive serotonin surge that I get from a run?  I do not, but admittedly I feel better than if I sat around watching YouTube videos before I headed into the office (and it helps my step count).  Then, the funniest thing happened a few weekends ago – I took off for my regular Saturday morning run and managed to run the fastest time I had run in months (if not longer).  And then it dawned on me: I had let perfect (or ideal) become the enemy of good.  Even if I didn’t “feel” the same after those long walks, they were still contributing to my overall fitness.  In a perfect world, yes, I’d go for a run every morning, but even taking that walk is still good.

For many of you reading this, you’ve got a big weekend coming up.  With Christmas Eve on a Sunday, nearly all of our churches have at least two services scheduled, while others are approaching a half dozen.  Whether you’re preaching, singing in the choir, collecting and counting the offering, baking the cookies, or managing the children’s choir, it will be a day on Sunday.  And it’s been my observation that, especially for the “big days” of Christmas and Easter, we tend to put extra pressure on ourselves to make sure everything is perfect and do so with the best of intent.  After all, visitors and infrequent attendees are common on Christmas Eve, and we want to be at our best – we want things to be perfect.  But the truth is a bit more complicated than that: perfect never happens.  I’ve been a part of enough Christmas Eve services to know that, inevitably, something goes awry.  The Christ candle won’t light, the lead soprano comes down with the flu, the sound system does that annoying thing it does, or the sermon doesn’t sound nearly as good aloud as it did in our heads when we were writing it.

None of the services I’ve been a part of have been perfect. But, the truth is that most of the folks coming through our doors on Sunday won’t be looking for perfect; they’ll be hoping to connect to something profound and holy through the familiar celebration of Christ’s birth.  In hectic seasons it’s crucial that we remember that we are in the instruments, not the conductor, and definitely not the composer.  Just like those who will walk through our doors on Sunday, we are part of the story – God’s story, God’s redemption story.  And the truth is that if God could only use perfect people, there wouldn’t be much story to tell.  Throughout the Bible, there is a steady theme of God using imperfect and sometimes seriously broken people, to write the next chapter in the story.  In the grand scheme of creation, this is the chapter we’ve been given to write.  It needs to be good, but perfect, no: only God is perfect – and thanks be to God that we can’t be.

So, as you make your final preparations for Sunday remember this: Don’t let good become the enemy of perfect.  Sunday needs to be good but perfect, no: leave perfect to the one who came and dwelt among us as one of us.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)





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